The .25-35 Winchester (6.5x52R) and .25-36 Marlin

By Chuck Hawks

The .25-35 Winchester was introduced in 1895 for the Model 1894 Winchester rifle. It was one of the famous Winchester trio of high velocity, smokeless powder hunting cartridges. Along with the .30-30 Winchester and .32 Winchester Special, the .25-35 helped revolutionize North American hunting and usher in the modern era of high velocity, small bore rifle cartridges. Only a few years after the introduction of that trio, most of the big bore black powder cartridges that had decimated North American plains game were obsolete and on their way out. A new age had dawned, one that is still with us.

Modern shooters accustomed to the ultra-high velocities of the .257 Weatherby Magnum and .270 WSM have a hard time understanding that in its day the .25-35 was just as revolutionary, and probably more so. The jump from the 1300 fps muzzle velocity typical of small bore black powder cartridges to the 2300 fps of the .25-35 represented an enormous increase in killing power and significantly flattened trajectory, allowing hits to be made with greater certainty at much longer range. The later .250-3000 Savage, .257 Roberts, .25-06 Remington, and .257 Weatherby Magnum are all simply steps further down the trail pioneered by the .25-35 Winchester.

The nomenclature of the .25-35 refers to a 25 caliber bullet propelled by 35 grains of smokeless powder. The .25-35 case looks something like a .30-30 case necked-down to accept standard .257 inch bullets, which is more or less what it is. (Actually, the .25-35 and .30-30 are both based on necked-down, bottleneck versions of the .38-55 case.) The .506" rim diameter is shared with the .38-55, .30-30 and .32 Spec., as well as the newer .307 Win., .356 Win. and .375 Win. The overall cartridge length is 2.55 inches.

Flat Nose bullets were used in the .25-35 for over 100 years, because of the tubular magazine of the Model 94 rifle. Recently, the advent of Hornady FTX plastic tipped spitzer bullets with points that give under recoil and are safe to fire in rifles with tubular magazines has dramatically increased the performance of the Winchester line of lever action rifle cartridges. More on Hornady LEVERevolution ammunition with FTX bullets shortly.

The traditional ballistics of the .25-35 Winchester called for a 117 grain flat point bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2300 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 1375 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the numbers were 1910 fps and 945 ft. lbs. The mid-range trajectory over 200 yards was a reasonable 4.6 inches. This may not sound impressive today, but at the time it was regarded as quite adequate for deer and pronghorn antelope and, in fact, it still is.

To put these numbers into perspective, remember that at the turn of the 20th Century the top selling deer cartridge was the .44-40, which had a MV of 1310 fps, 490 ft. lbs. of energy remaining at 100 yards and a 200 yard mid-range trajectory of 15 inches. From that perspective, the .25-35 looked pretty sensational.

It was sensational enough that Remington saw fit to copy the ballistics of the .25-35 for their proprietary .25 Remington rimless cartridge, introduced (I believe) sometime around 1908. This obsolete cartridge was part of the Remington rimless line developed for use in their early autoloading and pump action rifles. This line also included rimless clones of the .30-30 (the .30 Rem.) and .32 Special (the .32 Rem.). These cartridges were so similar to the Winchester cartridges that, although they look different, they had identical performance and the same powder capacity as their Winchester counterparts. Consequently, the same loading data can be used for both the .25-35 and the .25 Remington.

Marlin's proprietary version of the .25-35 Winchester, the long obsolete .25-36 Marlin, was introduced in 1895. .25-36 Marlin cartridges look virtually identical to .25-35 Winchester cartridges. .25-35 cartridges can be fired in a .25-36 chamber, although the reverse is not true due to the .25-36's slightly longer case neck. .25-36 cartridges have not been loaded since the 1920's. .25-36 factory loads drove a 117 grain RN bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1855 fps and muzzle energy of 893 ft. lbs. The .25-36 rifles still in circulation are usually pretty old; handloads for these rifles should not exceed the pressure and performance of the original .25-36 factory loads.

In Europe the .25-35 Winchester is known as the 6.5x52R. It has been used in many single shot rifles and drillings, where its rimmed case makes extraction simple.

Somewhat attenuated factory loads for the .25-35 are still offered by Winchester in their Super-X line. The current MV is 2230 fps with a 117 grain Power Point (flat point) bullet. The ME of this load is 1292 ft. lbs.

According to the Hornady Handbook, 10th Edition reloaders can duplicate the original 2300 fps load with Hornady's 117 grain Round Nose bullet (BC .243) in front of 25.3 grains of Norma 202 powder or 25.7 grains of LEVERevolution powder. Hornady describes this as, ". . . a very deadly game bullet which will not only buck the brush well but will expand easily even at low remaining velocities." Hornady ballistic figures show that at 100 yards this bullet is traveling at 1965 fps and retains 1003 ft. lbs. of energy. At 200 yards the velocity is still 1668 fps and the energy 723 ft. lbs.

The trajectory of this load is as follows: 1.5" at 50 yards, +2.5" at 100 yards, +1.4" at 150 yards, -2.5" at 200 yards, and -9.4" at 250 yards. Clearly, the .25-35 is suitable for average size deer out to beyond 150 yards, where the remaining energy is about 867 ft. lbs. Small deer, antelope and goats could easily be taken at 200 yards, which is within the point-blank range of a 25-35 rifle. The recoil of this load in a 7.5 pound rifle is a low 5.8 ft. lbs.

Better than either the Super-X 117 grain FP factory load or maximum reloads using similar bullets is the Hornady LEVERevolution factory load. This uses a 110 grain FTX boat-tail spitzer bullet (BC .340) at a MV of 2425 fps and ME of 1436 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the numbers are 2181 fps/1162 ft. lbs. and at 200 yards they are 1952 fps/930 ft. lbs. Zeroed at 200 yards, the mid-range rise is 3.3". Reloaders can duplicate this load using the FTX bullet and LEVERevolution powder, achieving muzzle velocities as high as 2500 fps from a 20" barrel, according to data from the 10th Edition of the Hornady Handbook.

Such loads make the .25-35 an effective 200 yard deer cartridge in the new Winchester Model 94 Sporter rifle, or the equivalent. The recoil energy in a 7.5 pound rifle is only about 6.0 ft. lbs.

A possibility for reloaders interested in hunting varmints and predators with the .25-35 are the flat nose 60-75 grain bullets also used in the .25-20 and .256 Winchester cartridges. For example, Hornady's 60 grain soft point FP bullet can be driven to a maximum velocity of 2900 fps and 1121 ft. lbs. of ME by 31.1 grains of H4895 powder or 32.3 grains of IMR 4320 powder. The trajectory of that load looks like this: +0.7" at 50 yards, +1.5" at 100 yards, +0.5" at 150 yards, and -3" at 200 yards. This makes the .25-35 suitable for varmints and small predators (coyotes and foxes, for example) to about 200 yards, where the remaining energy is 332 ft. lbs.

The .25-35 is making a comeback. In 2018 it is available in the latest Winchester Model 94s. Guns and Shooting Online articles have suggested its adoption in Henry H009 series lever action and H015 series single shot rifles, as well as the Marlin 336. We believe these are real possibilities in the future.

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Copyright 2002, 2018 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.